ESG & Diversity
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Meghan Day
Principal Solution Designer

Enhancing the Leadership Pipeline: Trends in Boardroom Diversity


In this episode of The Corporate Director Podcast, board leader Deanna Oppenheimer discusses her own experiences in the boardroom, recent trends in board diversity and strategies to diversify the leadership pipeline. Also in this episode, hosts Meghan Day and Dottie Schindlinger highlight key findings from the latest Diligent Institute research on gender diversity.

In This Episode:

  1. Inside BoardReady: Oppenheimer discusses her nonprofit organization BoardReady and how they work to increase boardroom diversity. 
  2. Women in Boardrooms: Oppenheimer talks through the current state of female representation in board leadership and strategies for improving these numbers.
  3. Getting your Voice Heard as a Minority in the Boardroom: Oppenheimer gives practical steps for new board directors and directors from historically underrepresented backgrounds to ensure their perspectives are heard.

Inside BoardReady

Oppenheimer gives background on BoardReady, the nonprofit she founded to increase diversity in the boardroom: “Several of us women directors really wanted to get more diversity on boards. The data supports that diversity supports better decision-making in uncertain times. The main focus for us was to move the discussion from an emotional one and make it more data-driven."

Oppenheimer continues: “At BoardReady, we don't do anything that is for-profit, so we deal with a lot of volunteering and we have been privileged to have people share data with us. That, to a large extent, has contributed to the growth of our organization. We have what we call a talent hold: about 83% of our membership are women, of which about 25% are people of color. Another 25% are also looking for their first time board roles."

She then dives into the data: “When you look at the data, you will see that in the S&P 500, the data shows that 45% of newly appointed directors are women, but the bump up in underrepresented ethnic groups went up from 25% in 2020 to over 60% in 2021. The challenge however is that most of these positions were added on. On my board at Hargreaves Lansdown, I inherited a diversified board, and so we are currently looking forward to facing out long-tenured directors and that opened slots for us. So currently, 30% of our board are first time board members and some of our board members come with great expertise in technology and cybersecurity. We currently have 50% women composition of which one is of color.”

“One of the most important things in diversity discussions is to bust the myth that there aren’t enough diversified directors in the supply pool. Thanks to a lot of effort, people now understand why diversity on boards matters."

-Deanna Oppenheimer, Non-Executive chair of Hargreaves Lansdown and Founder of BoardReady

Women in Boardrooms

Oppenheimer shares her thoughts on how levels of female leadership in boardrooms could be increased: “It's a pipeline issue. Board chairs don't just pop into the position. It comes from growth. For example, in the FTSE 100, the data shows that the percentage of female NEDs is 44%, 14% are women chairs and 25% are lead Independent directors and 35% chair board committees. So this growth is there, and it's likely to continue growing. But the other challenge there is getting women into C-suite positions. The actionable item there is to start a similar campaign as we did for Boards onto the Executive suite levels as well.”

Getting your Voice Heard as a Minority in the Boardroom

Oppenheimer shares recommendations for diverse directors struggling to get their voice heard: “One question we can ask is, are directors creating a touch base environment outside of board meetings? This is important for a lead independent director to monitor. Doing this could create much better engagement across the boardroom, and that is how you create a stronger board."

Addressing new board members, she adds “ Less is more when you are a new board member. I got a piece of important advice from a seasoned board member when I started my career as a board member. He told me, 'Pick one or two important points to make in a board room and don't make them if they have already been made, or else you are just an echo chamber.'"

She summed up her points in three actionable items as follows:

  • Perfect what you are going to say and perfect when to say to it to get your points across.
  • Use the power of the silent pause. If you just step back and pause when you are speaking, you gain the attention of your audience.
  • Sit down with your board chair and lead independent directors to understand what you can do, and ask for advice on what you can do better.

One of the challenges of being the only female board member in the room is there is the issue of being talked over and or your voice not being heard enough

-Deanna Oppenheimer, Non-Executive chair of Hargreaves Lansdown and Founder of BoardReady

Also in this episode…

Oppenheimer touches on two important themes that are likely to dominate boardroom conversations in the future: “We are already seeing it today, but two key trends are likely to accelerate: one is diversity and the other is complexity around key issues like risk management and cybersecurity."

Resources in this episode:

Deanna Oppenheimer Image
Deanna Oppenheimer
Non-Executive chair of Hargreaves Lansdown and Founder of BoardReady

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